Obliterate has been preserved in our language for centuries, and that’s not nothing! The earliest evidence in our files traces obliterate back to the mid-16th century as a word for removing something from memory. Soon after, English speakers began to use it for the specific act of blotting out or obscuring anything written, and eventually its meaning was generalized to removing anything from existence. In the meantime, physicians began using obliterate for the surgical act of filling or closing up a vessel, cavity, or passage with tissue, which would then cause the bodily part to collapse or disappear. Today obliterate thrives in the English lexicon with the various senses it has acquired over the years, including its final stamp on the language: “to cancel (something, especially a postage stamp).”
in a stroke, the March snowstorm obliterated our hopes for an early spring
Recent Examples on the WebMore than two-thirds of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled their homes since Israel launched weeks of intense airstrikes followed by an ongoing ground operation, vowing to obliterate Hamas.—Edith M. Lederer, Fortune, 10 Nov. 2023 Tehran can’t sit back and watch Israel obliterate Hamas.—Reuel Marc Gerecht, WSJ, 30 Oct. 2023 What aspects of game or decision theory can make any sort of comprehensive sense out of the fact that around 13,000 nuclear warheads now exist, enough to obliterate the planet several times over?—TIME, 28 Oct. 2023 Hamas now seems all-in on its covenant to obliterate Israel, Hoffman said.—Robin Wright, The New Yorker, 9 Oct. 2023 Motorists have been whizzing past the theater’s dark marquee for decades on elevated S.M. Wright Freeway, which obliterated part of the thriving neighborhood when it was constructed in the 1950s.—Holly Haber, Dallas News, 18 Sep. 2023 That came just weeks after deadly floods ripped through eastern Kentucky, breaking water lines as rampaging rivers and streams obliterated entire neighborhoods.—Jacey Fortin, New York Times, 15 Nov. 2023 In an Anchorage courtroom roughly two years after Mirai had obliterated Brian Krebs’ website, a judge handed down that sentence—community service, no prison time—to the three 21- and 22-year-olds, along with debts of between $115,000 and $127,000 each in restitution.—Andy Greenberg, WIRED, 14 Nov. 2023 One explosive eruption in 1915 obliterated a forest and created a gigantic mushroom cloud 30,000 feet high that could be seen as far as away as Eureka and Sacramento and blew volcanic ash 280 miles out, reaching Elko, Nev.—Rong-Gong Lin Ii, Los Angeles Times, 23 Oct. 2023 See More
These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'obliterate.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.
borrowed from Latin oblīterātus, oblitterātus, past participle of oblīterāre, oblitterāre "to cause to be forgotten or fall into disuse, make disappear," from ob- "against, facing" + -līterāre, litterāre, verbal derivative of lītera, litteraletter entry 1 — more at ob-
The original meaning of oblīterāre was apparently "to wipe out letters, words, etc.," but this sense is not clearly attested in classical Latin. Attested senses appear to have been influenced by oblītus, past participle of oblīvīscī "to forget, put out of mind" (cf. oblivion).